Instructional designers and eLearning developers need to pick the right delivery method for their eLearning courses. Whether you’re working on curriculum development for corporate learning solutions or implementing eLearning in schools and K-12 education, there is a host of instructional design models to pick from. And this is how instructional design processes can accommodate every learner/creator’s needs.

Each learning theory & instructional design strategy has pros and cons, and while this post is not necessarily an instructional design model comparison guide, it does lay out the basic elements of various Instructional Design (ID) methodologies.

Before we delve into the numerous acronyms and training design jargon, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of instructional design theory and systems.

A brief history of the instructional design process

The roots of instructional design theory can be found in Robert Gagne’s work in system development. After the Second World War, Robert Gagne looked at how instruction could be used to train Army Air pilots.

His work focused on formalising a process that looked at people’s interaction with technology so that both could function as part of a larger system.


source: Donald Clark

The resulting framework for imparting instruction and training design could be loosely broken up into a project stage for:

  1. planning,
  2. design,
  3. development,
  4. testing,
  5. and finally operational level.

Which we now know as the instructional design steps or steps of learning design. Now, let’s start with the basics of instructional design.

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Developing a training design process for the military

The military started building an instructional design methodology based on Gagne’s principles for instructional design and soon, the Air Force developed a Five-Step Approach that already had elements that were starting to resemble what would eventually become the ADDIE model for the instructional design process.


source: Educational Technology

The five-step approach of the Air Force can be considered to be one of the first frameworks that aimed to create a system for designing effective instruction for learners. From the task analysis stage of the five-step approach, learning designers can get an overview of the requirements for the training. While also understanding the learner behaviour and the conditions that have to be modified for the training design module.

They then progress to developing learning objectives and goals for the training program design. Once this has been translated into concrete designs for the learning project, instructional process designers can validate and get evaluations on the effectiveness of the program. This became a bedrock for the instructional design process.

So, what is the instructional design process?

Simply put, instructional design is the process of designing, creating, and delivering educational materials, experiences, and courses. In the best way possible to the learner.

The ADDIE instructional model came shortly after the Five-Step Approach of the military, and soon became a mainstay in instructional design models for early professional training and corporate learning solutions. With the evolution of requirements and processes, new ID models came about that built on these basics or incorporated more agile practices into these.

Andrew DeBell from waterbearlearning defines ADDIE as, “…a process used by training developers and instructional designers to plan and create effective learning experiences.”

And we couldn’t have put it any better.

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Types of Instructional Design Models

ADDIE Instructional Design Model

The ADDIE(Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate) model was developed in 1975 at Florida State University.

Top: The more traditional outlook about ADDIE being waterfall-like in approach. source: SaltboxBottom: A more updated view of ADDIE being iterative when adapted right. source: Wikimedia commons

In one of its earlier incarnations, it had about 19 steps that comprised the five project phases of the instructional design process.

Early representation of the ADDIE model. source: Donald Clark

Here’s what each phase of the ADDIE model for instructional design conventionally deals with:


  • Who are the learners?
  • What is their knowledge level and what knowledge gap will the course fill in?
  • What tasks are the learners already doing and what would the learners have to do to bridge the knowledge gap?
  • What is the learning environment like and what are the constraints in this environment?
  • What is the scope, timeline and cost of the project?


  • The minimum threshold for the learner to be a part of the training course.
  • Learning objectives for each task to be covered in the course.
  • Determine the flow and structure of the learning modules.
  • Design an evaluation system to assess impact and engagement.
  • Map each phase of the learning module to the timeline decided.


  • Select a delivery method for the learning modules.
  • Translate designs into actual learning materials.
  • Make sure that the learning material covers all goals and objectives of the training design process.
  • Create documentation guides for trainers, a list of auxiliary resources needed for learners, etc.


  • Distribute the learning modules to the learners.


  • Was the instruction clear to the learners?
  • Did it motivate the learners?
  • How did it impact the learner and did it bridge the intended knowledge gap?
  • What did not work in the course?
  • What can be improved?
  • How can it be done?

There is considerable debate in the eLearning industry about the advantages and disadvantages of the ADDIE model. But it continues to be used in various forms, providing a base for the instructional design methodology adopted, in many cases. Now let’s delve into other models of the instructional design process.

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Dick and Carey Instructional Design Model


source: educational technology

Influenced by Robert Gagne’s principles of instructional design, Walter Dick was joined by Lou & James Carey, to develop the Dick and Carey model of instructional design.

This instructional design methodology recommends 10 steps to follow while designing effective instructional content. They are:

  • Assessing instructional goals. Defining in general terms what the learner needs to gain from the eLearning project and course. Is the program aimed at helping K-12 students do better at mathematics? Or is it filling the gap in knowledge for a corporate environment?
  • Doing instructional analysis. For this, elearning developers need to put together what are the prerequisites for the learners. Do learners need to have specific skills and knowledge to complete the course?
  • Defining entry behaviours. At this stage, you need to do some learner research to understand their present context. What are learner expectations, goals or objectives? Is there a need for personalization to adapt to the special needs of the intended learners? This can help make the course a well-rounded & comprehensive experience for the audience. Make sure to ask the clients the right questions.
  • Performance objectives. These are the direct intended results that learners should experience after completing the course. These need to be observable and measurable results. Performance objectives also give a marker about the criteria that will be used for learner evaluation.
  • Create assessments based on criteria. Tests and assessments provide a benchmark for learners and external stakeholders to evaluate progress and completion of performance objectives.
  • Create an instructional design strategy. It is time to draw up an outline of the learning material, what tasks each of them will have and what the flow will be like. All the knowledge gaps that have been identified in the learner’s context, the instructional strategy needs to address those.
  • Develop and select instructional materials. The blueprint goes into implementation here. Create the online learning exercises and tasks that the learners will directly interact with. Select the right tools to transfer learning.
  • Formative evaluation. Formative evaluation gives the internal stakeholders a chance to assess what is working and what is not. While also giving you the reason for it. This can be done in alpha and beta releases, and by using validation techniques like prototyping. Before the course is finally delivered, issues of content, functionality, UI, responsiveness etc. can be ironed out in the training design.

Now there are various methods to collect this feedback. But try to use a tool that can accommodate all of these points making it easier for you to move on to the next step.

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Visual collaboration on learning content in zipBoard
  • Summative evaluation. This is an external evaluation from stakeholders like learners and clients. It is a major indicator of the project’s success. Getting eLearning feedback via questionnaires, surveys and interviews is one option. zipBoard is an eLearning review and collaboration tool that can help streamline the entire course development process and ensure that summative evaluation can be integrated with formative evaluation and as a result the entire process of designing courses.
  • Revising instruction. Using the feedback and reviews collected from formative and summative evaluation, courses can be revised in the Dick and Carey model.

If you liked this article then we highly suggest that you download this free ebook for | Complete Guide on Instructional Design

Successive Approximation Instructional Design Model (SAM)

As the need to plan eLearning projects in a more agile way increased, the need for a dynamic instructional design model with faster instructional design iterations that focused on collaboration, became greater.

The Successive Approximation model, developed by Dr Michael Allen of Allen Interactions, became more popular as it filled this need. The book, ‘Leaving ADDIE for SAM’ has influenced a great number of teams in giving SAM a try and many now prefer it as one of the better options.

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SAM focuses on “repeated small steps, rather than perfectly executed giant steps”. Rather than having a linear model of moving the course development process like in ADDIE, in the Successive Approximation Model, the idea is to keep learner experiences and engagement at the centre of things rather than how the course is presented and content organized. Hence, have a more dynamic instructional design process.

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Preparation phase

When starting eLearning projects, the priority is to gather as much information and data as possible. All information gathered is used to create a narrative about what the learners need from the project. This is done extremely rapidly.

This is followed by the ‘Savvy Start’, which is a kick-off meeting for stakeholders to discuss initial ideas and lay the groundwork for future project direction. The challenge many times is to help clients or project sponsors understand their exact requirements.

Savvy start can be customized according to the need of the clients, the project, or even the constraints. However, the general model involves brainstorming, creating a narrative, turning these into prototypes, planning and revising. Some of the main things to establish in a savvy start are:

  • Rules for the kick-off meeting and project goals.
  • Evaluating past learning experiences of the learners.
  • Explaining successive iterations.
  • Creating a strategy to bring about behavioural change in learners.

A good, comprehensive savvy start can be done in two to three days, but can also be reduced depending on time constraints.

Iterative Design Phase

Rapid prototyping based on the design guidelines and ideas is the norm for SAM. These prototypes can be used to get validation and quicker buy-in from stakeholders, both internal and external. Because all stakeholders have been consulted at the start of the project (‘savvy start’), there is a quick turnaround during design reviews. Leading to feedback being processed faster.

Things to establish during the planning stage of this phase are:

  • What are the expectations?
  • What are the constraints?
  • What is the cost of the project?
  • What delivery platform should be used?

Based on this, plans can be documented well and in detail. The idea in this stage is to rotate through design, prototype, and review.

Iterative Development Phase

Coming into the development phase, there is now a design proof that has been achieved thanks to exhaustively working on ideas and feedback in the previous design stage. This design proof is collaboratively approved and thus, presents a valid blueprint model that the development team can start implementing.

As the blueprints start turning into working materials, internal stakeholders can cycle through development, implementation and evaluation, getting valuable feedback from external stakeholders as well. The course material can be further refined in iterations over the alpha and beta phases, before going for a full-scale release.

This is a handy checklist for implementing SAM, with a breakdown of points for both instructional designers and project managers.

ASSURE Instructional Design Model

The ASSURE model was developed based on Robert Gagne’s work, specifically, on the nine-step model of instruction.

ASSURE gives instructional designers a model for integrating technology and media into learning and development coursework.

Here are the six stages it lays out:

  1. Analyze learners — Gather information about the learners. Who they are, demographics, learning style, prior knowledge etc. This information will be useful for making decisions later in the process about eLearning design and implementation. Use a client questionnaire to ask the right questions.
  2. State standards and objectives — Instructors need to determine what is the goal of the instruction and what the learner will gain from the course. This also helps during assessment and measuring the impact of the course on the learner.
  3. Select strategy, media and material — Decide on a delivery method for your eLearning project. Determine the degree of technology and media input. For example, if you’re creating a blended learning course, you need to decide what the contribution from online learning will be and what the contribution from offline classroom teaching will be. Once a broad overview is ready, the details and material needed to implement the strategy can be decided.
  4. Utilize media and material — This is the implementation stage of the instructional design process. Prepare the material that has to be implemented. This is where the media designer or developer comes into creating graphics needed, or when additional learning resources to support the coursework is created.

A good practice to execute this project stage is to follow the 5 Ps.

  • Preview the media and material. Carry out a demo run.
  • Prepare the technology and media.
  • Prepare the environment. The learning environment can include software or hardware in the classroom.
  • Prepare the learner. Brief the students on course plan, context and assessment strategy.
  • Provide the learning.

5. Require learner participation — Create a strategy for engaging the students. This can be in the form of classroom discussions, QA sessions etc. Since ASSURE is a classroom-oriented instructional design model, it emphasizes offline strategies to complement online learning techniques.

6. Evaluate and revise — Evaluating the performance of the learning design process and how successful it is for the stakeholders involved is an important step. Based on the evaluation results, instructional designers and project managers need to make the necessary revisions to the course.

ARCS Model

The ARCS model was devised by John Keller as a theory for learning motivation. ARCS stands for — Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction.

According to Keller, these are 4 elements of the learning design process that, when implemented, can improve motivation in learners for online training or eLearning. Specifically, these are:

  1. Attention — This can be gained by arousing curiosity and catching the learner’s attention with strategies such as active participation, humour, conflict, examples and inquiry.
  2. Relevance — Learners will not take to the course if it is not relevant to their concerns and needs. Some strategies that can help establish relevance are building on experience of current skills, demonstrating value in the present and future, incorporating a sense of achievement for learners, providing them with choice, and supporting learner growth by having them share their knowledge as experts with other learners.
  3. Confidence — Confidence in the task and their ability improve the motivation level of learners. This can be done by giving a specific roadmap of learning objectives and achievements and providing feedback to the learners in a positive tone.
  4. Satisfaction — By showing learners that the knowledge they have gained is beneficial, learner satisfaction can be boosted and can increase the impetus for participating in more training programs.
source: CI484 Learning Technologies

While ARCS was established as a framework for learner motivation, the importance of learners to elearning projects has made ARCS a model for approaching the design and development of L&D courses as well.

In the instructional design process, the 4 elements of ARCS can be translated as:

  1. Identifying the elements of human motivation.
  2. Determining the requirements for motivation based on audience analysis.
  3. Designing and developing learning material and strategies that can trigger learner motivation.
  4. Implementing learning material and strategy.

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Structured Content for Instructional Design

The next thing an instructional designer must keep in mind is structured content. Structured content is information or content that is organized predictably. So, it makes it easier for the learners to scan through the content.

In other words, “It means breaking down content into the smallest reasonable pieces — with each of those pieces holding the characteristics of the thing it represents.”

— Carrie Hane, Digital Strategist and Founder, Tanzen LLC

In structured content, writers must build the structure of their content, as well as add texts, images, and other elements. A structure is built through elements, and different types of content are represented by different elements. The structure must comply with the standard, and this is often enforced by the authoring tool. The purpose of this is to ensure consistency, as writers must use the elements appropriately.

To illustrate the difference between non-structured and structured content, here’s an example of a structured content framework being applied to a typical page from Microsoft Learn.


Before and after screenshots of a Microsoft Teams page. Source: GatherContent

To put it simply, this helps the instructional designers to create courses that are easy for people to scan through. As any content is always in the correct format and style.

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There are numerous ID strategies and models to choose from. Hopefully, this article will have made it a little easier to discern the specifics of each so that you can decide which one is best for your learning design project and stakeholders.

This article is just scratching the surface of the instructional design process, among the wealth of other resources we have on learning content. You can see the other articles here.

If you’d like to boost productivity and collaboration during your L&D projects, book a free demo with zipBoard. Instructional designers, project managers, clients and subject matter experts on eLearning teams have been able to finetune the noise in their feedback and get more projects delivered with zipBoard.

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